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"Successful" was the term given to the press to describe Dodger outfielder Shawn Green's shoulder surgery last week. This comes as no surprise. Not too many athletes wake up from the operating table to read in the paper that they've had "unsuccessful" surgery, the "first, do no harm" medical ethic providing some assurance of that.
Therefore, for most media outlets, the news of Green's surgery to clean up the labrum in the back of his right shoulder was little more than a footnote in the Dodger offseason. The Dodger press reported 1) the surgery occured, and 2) that Green is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
For baseball medical expert and dogged reporter Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus.com, however, there was more news to convey - and it wasn't all that successy.
On Friday, Carroll wrote:
... instead of repairing the labrum, the damaged cartilage was removed. This is significantly more likely to cause future issues, and raises doubts that Green will recover to the level many expected from this great player.
I read this and went, "Whoa." And then I went, "Why?" It sounded like an either-or choice was made, and not a very good one at that.
I asked Carroll: "Can you give any insight as to why this decision would have been made? Would the doctors or the Dodgers dispute that it is more likely to cause future issues? Or is the type of surgery Green had less intense? Bottom line: what was the incentive for removing the damaged cartilage and not repairing the labrum?"
When Carroll replied, the first thing he did was clarify that the issue wasn't about doctors making a bad choice:
Man, I knew I was gonna end up having to explain that one more.
Honestly, when they went in, I'm reasonably sure the thought was repair (the labrum, instead of removing the damaged cartilage), but the tear was too big to suitably repair.
Okay, so the doctors did what they could. Still, this surgery doesn't sound like something so successful after all - at least in the eyes of any Dodger fans looking for 40-plus home runs from Green in right field again.
Doctors would say they did what was necessary and that [Green] should return to function, but doctors don't analyze baseball. I can't say for sure that he won't, but since he'll have bone on bone in at least part of the glenoid fossa now, there's a significantly raised chance of pain, and pain is never good for function.
Sure, he could feel loose and come back and play fine, but as one surgeon I know says, "Surgery isn't a fix; it's buying time until I have to do it again."
Surgery or not, Shawn Green still has a shoulder problem.
In the spirit of "teach a man to fish," Carroll gave me a couple of links to medical sites so that I could do further research. As someone who understands neither science nor fishing, this was problematic, but I waded in. After all, I did write an ER spec script once.
From Johns Hopkins, we learn:
1) "The labrum is a type of cartilage found in the shoulder joint." (This is apparently beginner's stuff, so you can see the level of expertise I bring to the pond.)
2) "The labrum has basically two functions.